In the early years of Jean Cavanaugh’s tenure on the USD 428 Board of Education:
• A $1.5 million bond issue was passed in 1979 to add to and remodel the high school and all seven elementary schools.
• The demolition of the old Riley School building cost $12,500.
• Lunches for elementary school children cost 55 cents.
• Gas was bid in 1979 at 84.9 cents per gallon.
• Non-certified teacher aides were paid $3.25 an hour.
• The enrollment in 1979 was 3,646.
• In 1980 principals were removed from teaching duties. Their extra time was to be used for counseling students.
• In 1982 the district bought four computers for $8,600, 14 typewriters for $18,200 and leased three pagers.
It’s hard to imagine the USD 428 Board of Education without her, but after 32 years as a school board member, Jean Cavanaugh is calling it quits. Her last board meeting will be June 13.
Traveling down memory lane, Cavanaugh recalled that Roosevelt Junior High Principal Don Learned, for whom she was a substitute teacher all those many years ago, first suggested that she run for the school board.
“He told me, ‘You kind of like helping kids.’ I did – and still do – and I had some ideas to improve their lives,” she said, adding that she’s had to fight to get some of them implemented and is still working on others.
Cavanaugh said she has ridden the wave of many educational trends and that some have been better than others. She’s also seen many administrators come and go and some of them have been better than others, as well.
But through it all, she has worked consistently on the same personal agenda that she had when she was first elected to the board back in 1979: To improve the lives of children through education.
Increasing the number of math classes needed for graduation has been a constant battle cry for Cavanaugh. When she took office, only one credit was needed; in 1981 a second one was added. Through the years, that was increased to three and Cavanaugh has now proposed a fourth requirement for a financial literacy course.
“I want to prepare kids for the future,” she said. “We need more academic subjects, but we also need vocational programs.”
The 86-year-old Cavanaugh has worked doggedly in her pursuit to make schools in Great Bend the best they can be.
She supported the addition of advanced placement courses to prepare college-bound students and concurrent courses in which students receive college credit while still in high school.
In the early years, Cavanaugh was successful in her push for academic letters and is still pressing for implementation of the International Baccalaureate Program.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t get that,” she said, “but it’s a very expensive program.”
That may be her only regret.
“It’s been very rewarding. I’ve learned a lot,” Cavanaugh said. “I haven’t had a lot of complaints so I guess I’ve done a pretty good job.”
“I admire Mrs. Cavanaugh,” said Dr. Tom Vernon, superintendent of schools. “She is tough, tenacious and determined to see her projects through. I respect her, not only for her advice and experience, but because she works well with others on the board of education.
“I also appreciate her huge heart as evidenced by her many philanthropic endeavors in our community,” Vernon said. “This district will greatly miss her experience on the board.”
“I like the administration we have,” Cavanaugh said, noting she thinks she is leaving the school board in good hands.
And although she is retiring from the school board, she definitely is not retiring from helping students. She will continue her volunteering her time to the reading program at Riley School.
“I’ve been here (at Riley School) for 12 years. I’ll come as long as they want me,” she said.
She will also continue supporting public education through her philanthropic endeavors that in the past have resulted in financial support of about 80 college students a year, the needs of Hispanic youth and an entire soccer field that carries her name.
“Every community needs volunteers and leaders who care,” said Dan Brungardt, USD 428 business director. “The blend of the two is what we have with Jean. She is passionate about all of her causes, but most of all in the cause of helping youth excel.
“How richly we have been blessed with her willingness to serve, friendly smile, leadership and encouraging words,” Brungardt said.